With so much going on over the course of the actual track and field meet, Justin Cobis didn’t have time to dwell on the thought that his time as the Riverhead High School girls winter track coach was coming to an end.
The hard part for Cobis came after the League I Championships at Suffolk County Community College’s Suffolk Federal Arena had been completed. “It’s going to very hard to compose myself,” he told a reporter during an interview.
Then again, Cobis undoubtedly had to fight back emotions before the meet when he saw posters his wife, Stacy, and kids, Jackson, 7, and Zoe, 5, had put up in the arena. “I think that he was trying so hard to hold back his tears for the whole team, but I know he wanted to cry as soon as he [saw] his wife and kids and everything and all the posters,” said Riverhead senior Miasha Pittman.
As much as Cobis might not have wanted to see it that way, it was the Justin Cobis Farewell Meet.
Cobis, Riverhead’s coach for 12 seasons, has resigned, effective Sunday, in order to accept an assistant principal position at a Southampton intermediate school. It’s a bittersweet exit for Cobis, who now hands the baton off to assistant coach Maria Dounelis.
“As a coach, you never want the meet to be about yourself,” Cobis said. “You always want it to be about the girls and about the team and I try to do that. I’ve been doing this for so long and you’d be lying if you didn’t say that was a part of this. It’s my last chance to do something for the district. There’s not one thing I would have rather done on my way out than to coach this team, and I couldn’t have had a better group of kids to do it with.”
Cobis’ bond with his athletes is strong.
“It’s very emotional,” sophomore Ava Sumwalt said. “It’s just going to be different without him.”
Sumwalt said Cobis is “very encouraging. Honestly, I don’t think I could run as fast as I do without him. He’s always telling us to push ourselves in life. Honestly, if he wasn’t there, I don’t know what I’d do.”
Pittman called Cobis “amazing. He’s very kind. He pushes you to be the best person, the best runner you can be, and without him, I don’t know, like [Sumwalt] said, it’s very hard to imagine. I still can’t believe he’s actually going. It doesn’t seem real.”
The Blue Waves weren’t at full strength in the final meet of Cobis’ Riverhead career. They were missing some of their top runners, like Megan Kielbasa and Linda Pomiranceva, because of other obligations. Meanwhile, other runners were not feeling their best, like Christina Yakaboski, who competed despite fighting the flu and being “extremely congested,” according to Cobis.
Pittman had a nice day for herself. She was part of a second-place 4×200-meter relay team, along with Enaria Suazo, Egypt Dozier and Ashli Bell, that was clocked in 1 minute, 51.48 seconds. “My 4×2, they killed it,” Pittman said. “They put in more effort than I thought I could put in for them.”
Earlier, Pittman competed in the 300 for the first time this season, and came away with third place in 43.30. She was also sixth in the long jump (15 feet, 10 1/2 inches).
Riverhead’s Stephanie Berkele was second in the high jump (4-8).
Yakaboski, who purposefully stopped running early in the 3,000 in order to preserve her energy for the 4×800 relay, brought Riverhead the lead on her opening leg. Kristina Deraveniere, Madison Kelly and Lindsay Yakaboski, Christina’s younger sister, handled the rest as they finished fourth in 10:48.93.
Sumwalt was originally scheduled to run in that relay but was pulled because she was not feeling well. Before that, though, Sumwalt earned All-League status and sixth place in the 600 with a season-best time of 1:45.54.
Bell was sixth in the 55 in 7.62 seconds. In the 1,500 race walk, Riverhead’s Madison Stromski was sixth in 8:44.98, one place ahead of teammate Lily Kneidl (9:38.81).
Riverhead finished sixth among 10 teams with 30 points. Ward Melville (115 points) won the league title.
“Everyone put out there for Cobis,” said Sumwalt.
This goodbye clearly wasn’t easy for Cobis, who was a student at Riverhead High School for four years, worked there for 13 years and met his wife there.
“I feel very good about the work that we have done together and I will miss it more than anyone will ever know,” he said.
He added: “Riverhead’s a very special place … It will always have a very special place in my heart.”